A common murre or common guillemot (Uria aalge) was found on August 17, 2015, along the shores of Nanwalek. This one was chewed on when we found it and the other murre was reported on 8/21/15. We realize the waters are warming and impacting our marine food resource. We want to be kept appraised of these impacts whether it is an algal bloom/PSP-related event or potentially related to the Fukushima Power plant (earthquake) disaster.
Just wanted to share these photos of common murres washing ashore here on the beach of Nanwalek. These have been washing up mostly one at a time since spring.
I have question regarding the common murre: why is it we are only finding dead murres on our beach? So do all the die-offs (sea lion, whales, water fowl..) eat the same type of food? The IGAP intern and I just walked the beach found four dead murres, two that were pretty decomposed. Upon our assessment, a local fisherman was saying that when he was last in Dogfish Bay, there were about five dead murres on the beach. The only other thing that was found was the sea lion.
Julia Parrish with Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) writes: (9-15-15)
There have certainly been a lot of common murre die-offs this year, both in Alaska and along the Lower 48 west coast. This is unusual, at least in the tenure that we’ve run the COASST program. COASST is committed to working with LEO, and everyone else who is working on this die-off in Alaska! In terms of the specific question of what murres eat, they certainly eat forage fish (capelin, sandlance, herring, smelt) and they occasionally eat krill, but they don’t eat copepods. In terms of the question why murres, that’s a great question. It’s one I’m wondering about as well, and especially because last year we saw a huge die-off of cassin’s auklets (related to murres but smaller, and they do eat copepods, at least large ones). So, why cassin’s last year and murres this year? And why murres throughout the breeding season? That’s truly unusual. I do believe that one potential explanation may be rooted in harmful algal blooms. We may never know other than correlating bloom location, time, and intensity with die-offs of seabirds and marine mammals. For me, the weird thing is that I would also expect to see dead gulls (gulls and kittiwakes eat a lot of forage fish pushed to the surface by fish predators, like salmon) and birds that didn’t show signs of starvation. I wish that I could tell you that we knew more. It is frustrating to watch an event like this happen and not be able to easily determine what is going on.
Bruce Wright, Senior Scientist at Knik Tribal Council, writes: (9-15-15)
There are two pathways for paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) contamination that I'm studying, one is via bivalves and other is via zooplankton. You are familiar with the bivalve pathway, and that's why I was in Nanwalek last month so I could collect and test mussels. The mussels, clams, and other bivalves feed directly on the Alexandrium phytoplankton that produces the paralytic shellfish toxins, concentrates the toxins, and what makes people sick is when they eat the PSP-contaminated bivalves. I'm interested in another pathway in that zooplankton feed on the Alexandrium phytoplankton, concentrate the PSP, and are eaten by forage fish such as sand lance and capelin. Anything that consumes the PSP-contaminated forage fish can be sickened or die. This article explains my hypothesis: (Alaska Dispatch News).